Marketing 101: How Japan and Nintendo restored our interest in the Olympics

Rio 2016 has officially come to an end with Tokyo taking over the Olympic flag in a fashion that has made everyone excited and craving to have more of the Olympics. Brazil did its job with this summer Olympics but let’s be honest, the buzz generated around Rio 2016 was more of a negative tone and not many people were excited about it.

Britain’s Katarina Johnson-Thompson competes in a heat of the women’s heptathlon high jump during the athletics competitions of the 2016 Summer Olympics at the Olympic stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

For the past two years all we could hear from the media about Brazil were bad news: corruption scandals involving top officials and Petrobas (the National Oil Company), fatalities and accidents at the construction sites mainly due to schedule constraints, mass protests against a faltering economy and recession, the growing discontent of cost overruns to host both the World Cup and the Olympics, and of course, the Zika virus to name a few; and while efforts were made to promote Brazil and its Rio Olympics, it is evident that not many people cared too much this time as we could notice from the number of empty seats in the competitions. Empty seats are not something new and while apparently more tickets were sold this time, the most important part of the Olympics, apart from the athletes, was not present: the crowd.

Certainly bad news is better than no news at all; the truth is that the marketing around the Olympics has not made it more appealing in past events (Greece, London, etc)…until last night.

How do you revive the Olympics? How do you entice the gross of your target audience to listen to you? You go back to your Marketing 101 class; you check one of your 4P’s (promotion) and you select one of its several strategies: the use of a brand ambassador.

Generation X and Millennials grew up in the age of video games, and the most popular character of all times seems to be set in charge to promote Tokyo 2020: Super Mario.

You wouldn’t have expected to see Shinzo Abe, Japan’s PM who is well known for his Abenomics and his efforts to bring Japan out of recession, coming out of a giant green pipe while dressed-up as Super Mario (well, only the hat) carrying a glowing ball representing Japan’s rising sun. Social media went crazy sharing memes and twits about what may come for Tokyo 2020.

Closing Ceremony 2016 Olympic Games - Olympics: Day 16
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – AUGUST 21: Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears during the ‘Love Sport Tokyo 2020’ segment during the Closing Ceremony on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Maracana Stadium on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Organizations have been busy chasing the bucks by focusing their efforts to cater baby boomers instead of targeting younger generations, and with the Olympics it seems that it has not been the exception. Although I have to admit that there are genuine reasons for this, very few companies and marketers have been successful in finding ways to innovate and generate track with their products. With the recent Pokemon Go phenomena, it appears that Nintendo has rediscovered what its customers (Generation X, Millennials and those in between) want.

What is worth to notice is that this comes at very important times. According to Accenture’s Outlook, Millennials “will truly come into their own by 2020, when we project their spending in the United States will grow $1.4 trillion annually and represent 30 percent of total retail sales”.

If Japan and Nintendo can tap into this promising (but hard to market) generation, they will indeed succeed where countries that hosted the Olympics in recent times have failed. If they can manage to stay out of trouble and avoid bad publicity for the next 4 years while maintaining its marketing strategy, not only the Olympics will be popular again, but they will be able to enjoy the inherent financial benefits associated with it and the long awaited boost that Japan has been trying to get after its long recession.

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